When Does God’s Word Return Void?
People love to say that God’s Word doesn’t return void (very often this is said as a means of promoting unconditional unity and of justifying any preacher who quotes from the Bible). However God’s word can indeed return void- that is, when it’s not understood properly, neglected, or just blatantly disobeyed.
I cite the context of Isaiah 55:11, where it is said God’s Word will not return to Him void to prove my point (it is a promise to show the blessing experienced when one forsakes their sinful ways and walks in obedience to God’s Word; but what if someone doesn’t do that? They are making God’s promises void in relation to themselves by their disobedience). Just look at Isaiah 55:11 within the context of Isaiah chapter 55. And then there are exhortations like those in 2 Timothy 2:15- if a minister preaches from the Bible but doesn’t rightly expound upon it in a clear manner with skillful understanding of the text’s instruction, the minister will be ashamed because the Word won’t be nearly as effective as it could have been due to the minister’s own lack of preparation and skill. And another good related question is, Why does Satan quote from the Bible then if merely quoting the Bible certainly aids the cause of the gospel? (as we see Satan doing in Matthew 4)? False prophets use the Bible abundantly, but like we see in 2 Peter 3:16-17, they quote the Bible but they twist its meaning to lead people astray from the right way (which they have also turned from or never entered themselves- 2 Peter 2:15).
The very concept of using “God’s Word will not return void” to justify anyone who quotes from the Bible is an example itself of how biblical phrases outside of their biblical context can be made void, of none effect, useless, etc; if not downright deceptive. The problem of course isn’t the Bible, but abuse and neglect of the things said in the Bible, not considering their biblical context and their place in light of the entire biblical revelation. This misuse of “God’s Word never comes back void” also is misleading in that it doesn’t account for how man can frustrate God’s purposes (contrary to Calvinist doctrine) and bring judgment upon himself by his own disobedience and neglect to fulfill the responsibilities God’s Word calls him to.
“40 How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
41 Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.” (Psalm 78:40-41)
“It is time for thee, LORD, to work: for they have made void thy law.” (Psalm 119:126)
“Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.” (Psalm 89:39- God didn’t honor the promises of His conditional covenant with the seed of David because they didn’t meet God’s conditions by their disobedience to their responsibilities on their end in God’s covenant)
“9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. 10 But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.” (Isaiah 63:9-10)
“And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. 12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” (Mark 7:9-13)
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (Hebrews 4:1-2)
No, God will never fail to do as He has promised and His ways will never cease to do good to those who actually follow them. But man cannot simply hear the Word and not do what it requires and actually be in God’s favor. Nor can man just use portions of Scripture out of context and rightfully think that God has promised to honor and bless the presumption and mistaken ideas arising out of such misuse of God’s Word. Nor can uninformed preachers and/or preachers lacking in godly character be considered as adequate ministers of God’s Word just because they are quoting from the Bible as they preach. God’s Word rightly ministered and applied will cut at our hearts; and when we are responding to God’s Word from the heart by embracing that death to self which the Sword of the Word calls for, then we can confidently and without presumption trust that God’s Word will have its intended effect upon us and not return void- for only then are we truly being led by the Lord as our Shepherd in rest and peace (that is, rest and peace from the Lord) on the paths of righteousness (Hebrews 4:10-12, Psalm 23). Christ’s covenant is with His subjects under the authority of His Word, not those who seek to use His Word for their own ends.
But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee.